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Darryl Kaplan's Blog

 

Good Morning From Blue Bonnets

Published: July 1, 2017 11:58 am ET

Last Comment: July 6, 2017 7:42 am ET | 6 Comment(s) | Jump to Comments

It's July 1, 2017: I'm standing in the winner's circle at Blue Bonnets Raceway in Montreal. I look up at thousands of seats in the grandstand and try to imagine this place on its biggest day.

It's not difficult to envision.

The track lighting still stands. The giant scoreboard in the infield still remains. And the lights are surprisingly still shining brightly inside the building. Computer screens are erect in the judges stand, and the turnstiles just inside the front door, appear ready to welcome the Canada Day crowds.

I step past a few barriers, and ignore a couple of signs to get onto the track. Here I am, walking the track that Canada's racing legends once competed over.

I have been to this place many times over the past 20 years, but not since it closed in 2009. Over the past eight years, there have been plans to demolish the racetrack and the old grandstand, but all of them fell through.

So here I am, at the track that was later known as Hippodrome de Montreal. And here I am reflecting on the history of this sport.

I expected to stay at the track this morning for 20 minutes, but find myself walking the entire length of the surface, and still remain here well into the morning.

I can imagine battles into the first turn as I make me way around to the backstretch. Wild flowers, snails and butterflies catch my attention, but the track is surprisingly not heavily overgrown.

Onto the backside, I walk into the race paddocks and security booths. The buildings all stand, but they've clearly been taken over by vandals and graffiti artists. Overgrown and unattended to, the barns strike me as an unusual mix of abandonment and revival. Despite garbage and paint cans left everywhere, the buildings are a canvas.

I make my way back to the track and walk around the final turn, where some of the best horses and drivers of all time began their drive to the wire.

The three-quarter time clock is still there. The electronics and glass has been removed but my mind's eye can picture the time as horses pace around the turn.

Through the timer, I can see the grandstand and hear in the distance, the roar of the crowd. As I walk the length of the stretch, I am among every horse who ever came down this lane. I am side by side with every fan who ever cheered from this grandstand. I am hand in hand with every race fan or bettor who thinks back to this place with reverence.

Today is a day to celebrate our nation's birth, and our industry. I'm privileged to be here doing that.


To read TROT editor Darryl Kaplan's previous blog entries on his "On The Road: Horse Racing 250" journey, click on the following links:

Part 2: June 30, 2017: Farewell: Signs From Hervé

Part 1: June 30, 2017: What are the chances?

July 6, 2017 - 7:42 amLove the photos and I'm

Love the photos and I'm amazed at how much of the place is still standing. You put me back to the days I would hear the same cheers and the hooves pounding in my hometown Windsor Ont. To be able to still walk the track and feel the excitement that once graced these places is pretty awesome. Our track was demolished and barely a scrap remains for those of us who so enjoyed the racing there. Thanks for the detour back to a time when things seemed a bit less complicated.

July 5, 2017 - 6:11 pmDarryl....thank you vivid

jim cauchon SAID...

Darryl....thank you
vivid memories 40+ years ago

'Le voici, here they are'

I spent'formative'years 18-20 there many a Sunday afternoon or occasional Friday night during the high-powered Montreal disco and Olympic era'75 -'77..

Among the moments that stood out:
*Prix d'ete sunday aft. excitement, like this one '76..I was there.
MONTREAL, Aug. 29 (AP)—Precious Fella, driven by Gary Cameron, captured the $163,700 Prix d'Ete pace today before 19,000 fans at Blue Bonnets Raceway. Precious Fella, owned by Oscar and Michael Kimmelman, Mort Feder, Ian Baird and Del Cameron of Pinehurst, N.C., earned place with a second‐place finish in the second division of the stake's preliminary round earlier in the afternoon. Keystone Ore, winner of the first division heat, finished second in the final. Wolf Pack, the winner of the second division, placed third.

on the more intriguing side.....
*One friday night when mini-riot broke out,,,the photo finish involving a horse (Stuyvesant I believe) allegedly beaten by a nose...didn't sit well with many, benches flew, tvs broken. (benches chained down after that)
*I recall for a while loto-quebec used to use finishing order of final race friday nights for weekly lottery game payoff...hmm idea?
*one of worse promotions ever done..hot sunday afternoon after the 7th race, track draw giveaway for a mobile home...afterwards losing paper ticket stubs were then discarded, and unfortunately, wind blew up in the stretch of next race, swirling, spooking horses and sadly Count Clay with Yves Fillion had to be put down.

and on the way out...we always had these three choices out on Decarie Blvd....if you had big afternoon, Chinese please at Ruby Foo's....held your own, Ponderosa steak cafeteria...or, a tough afternoon, a burger at Mcdonald's or, if you could rub two nickels together, something cold from the Orange Julius.

these good times incl.the 'skilled artistry' of craftsmen Benoit Cote,Jacques Hebert, Robert Samson, Yves Filion, Gilles Gendron, Serge Grise, St.Jacques family and more...

thanks for these great pictures.
jctoronto

July 2, 2017 - 11:26 amYes great work Darryl Peter

Yes great work Darryl
Peter Seaman and myself, took a trip around the track and grandstand and barn area a couple years ago where we raced for many years and found that it was a great shame that the Quebec Government at the time (the people representing the Quebec government), could put so many people out of work just to give in to Lotto Quebec's WHIMS.(About 35% take-out on all lotteries), the biggest take-out in North America. Once again, thank you for the memories and the pictures... GOOD JOB.

July 1, 2017 - 4:29 pmThank you for your heartfelt

Dan Fraleigh SAID...

Thank you for your heartfelt story. My father raced at Blue Bonnets Raceway a handful of times with some of his trotters including: Surestar Hanover. I hold the memories of when the grandstands were full and the buzz in the air was electric.

July 1, 2017 - 4:14 pmNice work indeed Darryl,

ron francis SAID...

Nice work indeed Darryl, demolition is not that far away. Nice memories, but, sad to see what was once Canada's showcase harness track in such a sad state.

July 1, 2017 - 3:47 pmGreat work, Darryl. Only last

Great work, Darryl.
Only last week I stumbled upon the full CBC Broadcast of the 1982 Prix d'Ete from Blue Bonnets. It's a great broadcast and a wonderful piece of history. It features Cam Fella at the beginning of his dominance and many of the great horseman of the day trying to catch the emerging legend. A glorious half hour. Sit back and enjoy!


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